From The Writers' Room Featuring Bookburners

Brian Francis Slattery on writing Bookburners Ep 14: “An Excellent Day For An Exorcism”

Always have a way out.

At the story summit meeting for this season, once we had our season outline in place, I think we all secretly had our episodes we really wanted to write. At the time, this one was mine. Wanting to write this episode was the reason that I willingly signed up for Episode 2, which no one else really wanted to do. When it came time to divide up the final episodes, I snatched it up. Horse trading, I guess.


But when it came time to actually sit down and write the episode, I realized that in some ways I’d made a mistake. Episode 2, which I thought would be a bit of chore, ended up being really fun. Likewise, episodes 8 anBB ep 14d 12, with their maddeningly vague and tiny plot descriptions in the outline, ended up giving me a lot of freedom. This episode, by contrast, had quite a few specific things that needed to happen, so writing it felt more constrained. Chief among them was the plot point that required Sal to essentially be tortured, and if there was one thing I was sure of, it was that the episode absolutely could not be an extended torture scene. There needed to be a way out, plotwise, themewise, and moodwise—not only at the end, but in the middle.


Sal’s way out—her trips with the Hand—ended up being part of my way out, too. They were the places where I could find the fun I’d had in the previous episodes.


As for the torture itself … well, long story short, in a previous life I’d worked for a social science research foundation that studied, among other things, political violence, and episodes of torture. One theme that emerges from the literature on that stuff is, of course, that some people are capable of incredible cruelty. Another theme, however, is that—contrary to the findings of the first iteration of the famous Milgram experiment on obedience—most people in fact do not want to torture another person and can’t be made to do so. Refusal to take part in atrocities has happened seemingly wherever atrocities have happened. I thought of a particularly heartwarming case in which a unit in Slobodan Milosevic’s army, ordered to perform ethnic cleansing in what was then Yugoslavia, responded by stripping off their uniforms and, naked, commandeering some military weaponry and using it to shell their own barracks.


I thought of these soldiers when I imagined how the rest of Team 2 would respond to what increasingly looked like sadism on Balloon’s and Stretch’s part, and what the results might be. Their humanity was another way out.

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